THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Following their excursion into the future, the Doctor decides to return to Earth and takes Bill on a trip back into the past, specifically to London in the 1800s but typically something is awry and the travelers are dragged into the mystery developing around them…
The River Thames has been frozen over and once more the city of London is holding its last great Frost Fair. Amidst snow and thick ice, people have been going missing, dragged under the ice to their death by something lurking deep under the water. Donning suitable period attire to try to blend in, the Doctor and Bill decide to explore the Fair although the Doctor is curious to know what is going on.
Shortly after stepping onto the Thames, Bill and the Doctor see something moving under the ice and realise something isn’t quite right. Before getting the chance to investigate further, the Doctor is conned by a group of street children who steal his sonic screwdriver. In the ensuing pursuit, one of the children falls victim to the creature and while he couldn’t be rescued the Doctor retrieves his screwdriver. Bill, however, is shocked at the Doctor’s apparent disregard for the death of the child and even more so when she learns that the Doctor himself has taken the lives of others.
Probing deeper into what has been going on, the travelers find that the children are part of a larger group of street kids who have been paid to encourage people onto the ice so they can be dragged under the water. The Doctor decides to find out what is going on for himself so he takes Bill down there to investigate finding a giant creature, trapped and chained to the sea bed.
Finding who is responsible for the atrocity, it is revealed that the creature is being kept against its will to harvest its bodily waste to use it as a high-output fuel, controlled by one of the wealthier members of society. After escaping capture, the Doctor sets out to free the creature and try to return London to normal…
It has to be said that the premise for the episode isn’t an original one. The idea of a creature being kept against its will and taken advantage of for someone else’s gain has been used over and over again in science fiction, one such instance that immediately springs to mind is the pilot episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Encounter At Farpoint. Saying that, when it’s done well and has an intelligently crafted script around it the episode can still prove to be entertaining despite giving the viewer a continual sense of deja vu throughout.
And that’s the case with Thin Ice. Despite the clichéd plot devices that appear throughout the episode – the street children, the arrogant not-so-nobleman, and the gullible dockworkers to name but a few – this is still a superbly crafted episode from start to finish. We’re shown a new dynamic between the Doctor and his companion that we haven’t really seen for a few years now where the Doctor’s whole outlook and actions are being questioned and while he doesn’t always like what he is hearing, he is starting to show some of this wisdom he has accumulated during his 2,000+ years to admit when he is wrong. Bill is the perfect traveling companion to share and revel in his curiosity while still helping him regain his humanity that has eluded him at times in recent years.
As with any episode that involves time travel to Earth’s past there are going to be historical inaccuracies that crop up in the script. Sometimes these are minor, others are more noticeable to history buffs but without trying to dismiss these as unimportant at the end of the day Doctor Who is meant to be escapist fantasy. We’ve seen the Doctor go back in time and meet countless historical figures and interact with them and yet these are rarely criticised (the tenth Doctor’s wedding to Elizabeth I for example) yet Bill’s comment regarding the existence of slavery (and the acknowledgement by the Doctor) has been commented on by some who have pointed out that it had been banned by the time the episode was set.
While still on the subject, there were other people of colour seen in different scenes throughout the episode (including soldiers!) with none of the other characters around them batting an eyelid. That being the case, both Bill and the Doctor’s comments at the start of the episode seemed rather redundant. The issue raised its head later in the episode as well so it was clear that the writer hadn’t done her research properly and while I certainly applaud her for trying to make a point in the story and putting what could have been a strong sub-plot into the episode it failed on both a historical and casting level.
Moving on, I know I’ve mentioned Nardole before when I reviewed the first episode, The Pilot, but thankfully he was only used in the final couple of scenes here when The Doctor and Bill returned to the University after their trip to London. First off Nardole scolded The Doctor for abandoning his mission and then returned to the secretive basement to check up on the vault that they have been guarding so carefully, teasing that something dangerous yet familiar lurks inside… Once again though, it felt as if he was present for comic relief although at least he was performing a function role here, reminding The Doctor of his real reason for being on Earth. Maybe there’s hope for him yet this season.
Ultimately, minor gripes aside (and to be honest they were really minor when watching this a second time), I thoroughly enjoyed this weeks offering. It was another superbly-paced episode, with solid performances all round, a tight script, subtle humour in all the right places and another story that allowed Capaldi to shine in the role. It will be heartbreaking to see him leave the show at the end of this season but at least it seems so far that he will be going out on a high.
All photos are © BBC and used with permission.